Maybe I’m just on a Dust Hoffman train now, but for my final blog, I decided to finally fully watch a movie that has graced not only several Top 100 lists of the 80s, but numerous lists concerning the top movies of all time as well: Tootsie. The film stars Dustan Hoffman as Michael Dorsey, an actor struggling to make a living due to his tendency to cause conflict and general irritation on set. His difficulties lead him to pursue a new gig as a day-time medical soap opera star as a woman—the plucky and outspoken Dorothy Thomas.
Although originally Michael only plans to appear on the show until he earns enough money to produce and star in a play his roommate has written, he ends up becoming more and more invested his life as Dorothy to the exclusion of his girlfriend who he seems somewhat uninterested in. Through his part on the soap opera he meets Julie, a co-star on the show whom he falls in love with and attempts to court as both his male and female selves. Dorothy/Michael must also contend with the interests of male co-stars and, embarrassingly, Julie’s widowed father, Les. Hilarity and Academy Award nominations ensue.
The film was marketed as a comedy in its day and although it is without question amusing, it seemed in my eyes that it included more serious commentary on the position of women in the 1980s than could be expected of a run-of-the-mill comedy.
Although Hoffman’s character originally begins as a somewhat stereotypical, misogynistic male figure, as the film progresses and he immerses himself deeper into the character of Dorothy. By standing up for himself to the womanizing actors on the soap-opera, Michael begins to feel the effects of disrespectful attitudes towards women. He realizes that he likely doled out similar disrespect, and attempts to recant in a way by presenting Dorothy as a feminist character, slapping “doctors” on air for flirtatious antics and advising Julie—albeit in a somewhat self-interested fashion—to escape her relationship with the show’s sexist director.
This shed quite a bit of light on the state of sexism and discrimination against women in employment during the 80s, a trend which, sadly enough, continues today. Social issues of unequal compensation, sexual harassment, and single parenthood are dealt with in the film, primarily through either Michael’s personal experiences as Dorothy—such as the scene in which he must count on the entrance of a man to stop a co-star from forcing himself on “Dorothy”—or Julie’s stories of what working in the business is like. Even though the film was directed by a man, I believe it accurately captured and brought attention to the plight of the modern woman in a professional context.